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Darwin Correspondence Project

To T. H. Farrer   5 June 1868

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

June 5 1868

My dear Mr Farrer

I must write a line to cry peccavi. I have seen the action in Ophrys exactly as you describe & am thoroughly ashamed of my inaccuracy. I find that the pollinia do not move if kept in a very damp atmosphere under a glass; so that it is just possible, tho’ very improbable, that I may have observed them during a very damp day.1

I am not much surprized that I overlooked the movement in habenaria as it takes so long.2

I am glad you have seen Listera; it requires to be seen to believe in the co-ordination in the position of the parts, the irritability, & the chemical nature of the viscid fluid.3

This reminds me that I carefully described to Huxley the shooting out of the Pollinia in Catasetum, & received for an answer “Do you really think that I can believe all that.”4

My dear Mr Farrer | yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin

P.S. | I cd. find no fly in the nectary of the orchis just received; but there was a minute insect in one flower stuck fast to the viscid stigma.—5

C. D.


See letters from T. H. Farrer, 17 May 1868 and 18 May 1868, and letter to T. H. Farrer, 19 May [1868]. CD refers to Ophrys muscifera (O. muscifera is a synonym of O. insectifera).
See letter from T. H. Farrer, 4 June 1868. CD refers to Habenaria viridis (H. viridis is a synonym of Coeloglossum viride var. viride).
See letter from T. H. Farrer, 4 June 1868. CD refers to Listera ovata; see Orchids, pp. 139–47.
Thomas Henry Huxley may have made this remark in a letter to CD that has not been found, or during his visit to Down House on 13 October 1861 (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)); for CD’s response to Huxley’s scepticism, see Correspondence vol. 9, letter to T. H. Huxley, 22 October [1861]. For CD’s discussion of the mechanism for ejecting the pollinia of Catasetum, see Orchids, pp. 212–48.
There is no mention of an accompanying specimen in the letter from Farrer of 4 June 1868.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Orchids: On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1862.


"I have seen the action on Ophrys exactly as you describe and am thoroughly ashamed of my inaccuracy."

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Thomas Henry Farrer, 1st Baron Farrer
Sent from
Source of text
Linnean Society of London (LS Ms 299/3)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6230,” accessed on 28 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 16